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I love to eat at restaurants. Rather, I used to love restaurants. With the exception of some sushi places, and a few small chef-owned jaunts, it’s just not worth it. I’m especially tired of eating at the chain restaurants. The quality of the food, and often the service, has declined while the prices have gone up! Everything looks good on the menu but the real dish never measures up. Don’t even think about the ridiculous amounts of fat and calories. Then there is the sticker shock of the bill and you still feel obligated to tip a less than attentive waiter. Lately, I’m just finding restaurants to be disappointing and expensive.

There are lots of ways to save on eating out. Order water instead of soda or pricey drinks, skip dessert and stop for ice scream on the way home etc. Many blogs and articles have been written on early bird and coupon dining. Instead, I’ve been looking at recipes for my favorite dishes and stepping up my cooking skills as a way to enjoy good food without the cost of a night out. So far I have found allrecipes.com to be the best recipe site. The instructions are generally easy to follow and the reviews are really helpful. I also love thekitchn.com. Faith has a great writing style and interesting recipes.

I’m a huge fan of ethnic food. Italian is really easy to make. In the summer, tomatoes, peppers and squash are easily found at farmers markets and local stands. In the winter, you can pick up canned tomato on sale and still reap the benefits. Ratatouille and great sauces are not difficult. Make a big pot of really good tomato sauce on the weekend and you have a couple of dinners for the week. You can have spaghetti with sauce one night, then make an easy eggplant or chicken parmesan another. Pan fry thin slices of eggplant or chicken thighs till they are cooked through. Then then place them on a sprayed baking sheet. Top with mozzarella or provolone cheese and bake at 350 till the cheese melts. Top with some warmed up sauce and shredded parmesan and your done. Actually, most leftovers topped with cheese and a good tomato sauce are tasty.

Asian and Indian are two of my favorite restaurant standards. I’m working on gaining some skill at these. I found a fabulously easy recipe for Chana masala, a chick pea based Indian dish that is easily made spicy or mild. There are, as with any Indian dish, some spices you don’t have in your pantry, but if you like Indian food, you should invest in them. Get familiar with small ethnic grocery stores. Many “exotic” ingredients or spices can be found really cheap there.

Japanese Soba noodles with peanut sauce is really good, and easy to make. So are stir fried frozen veggies with curry powder and coconut milk.

Check the web. Look for a good recipe book at the library or thrift store, or dust off one of your own. You’ll be surprised at what you can do in the kitchen.

On the subject, some recipe sites have an ingredient search. You enter the ingredients you want or have on hand, and the search will return results based on your entries. This is really helpful when you are on a budget and trying to cook from what you have without an extra trip to the store.

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